Opinion | Bill 39 sorely improves over NDP missteps on childcare

After the first consultation in more than a decade, Alberta's government proposed new legislation to reduce red tape and improve child care accessibility.

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By Devinder Toor, member the 30th Alberta Legislature representing Calgary-Falconridge. Mr. Toor sits on the Public Accounts Committee, and the standing committee on Alberta’s Economic Future.

If passed, Bill 39, the Early Learning and Child Care Act, will update the Child Care Licensing Act and regulations to improve child care quality and safety while reducing red tape faced by child care operators, educators and parents. These changes will ultimately give providers greater flexibility and refocus valuable resources on providing quality care. 

Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard solicited feedback from about 10,000 parents and caregivers, early childhood educators, child care operators and directors, and licensing staff into legislation and regulations. Much of this feedback reflects the common-sense changes to staff-to-child ratios, the act’s name, and rules around outdoor space and outings. 

Bill 39 will work towards more flexibility and transparency for parents, simplify language and rules for operators, and increase quality and safety in child care programs.

We are simplifying some of the government processes and paperwork that have tied providers up for years. By supporting licence applicants earlier in-process and streamlining the application process for established providers opening new programs, the Alberta Government provides more flexibility for high performing programs. 

This reduces many bureaucratic obstacles and emphasizes the expectation for quality and safe child care – it will not be optional. It will be mandatory for programs to offer high-quality child care.  

The Early Learning and Child Care Act provides parents with the peace of mind, knowing that their child will be safe and supported in licenced daycare or out-of-school care centre or an approved family day home wherever they live.

Following the Mackenzy Woolfsmith fatality inquiry, the Alberta Government also committed to improved transparency for parents and encouraged digital record-keeping.

If passed, Bill 39gives licensing staff the tools and authority to license, inspect, and use enforcement actions to ensure compliance with the legislation that focuses on the health, safety, and well-being of children – this will not change. 

We are also taking a few key steps to improve safety in all child care settings. Under the proposed legislation, we set clear expectations for both quality and safety. Licence holders and applicants must supply criminal record checks for all staff, volunteers, and directors who will contact children. Currently, only some of the people working in child care programs must supply a criminal record check.  

Alberta’s Recovery Plan champions a robust, safe and accessible child care sector

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 109,000 children were enrolled in a licensed or approved child care centre or a day home. As of October 9, 2020, a total of 56,009 children have registered, representing an overall enrolment rate of 50 percent. 

On the same date, there were 2,795 daycares, out-of-school care, and preschools reopened (94 percent), with 111,252 spaces available.

There are about 2,900 active licensed/approved Alberta programs, employing approximately 18,800 Albertans before the pandemic.

Under Alberta’s Recovery Plan and the federal government’s Safe Restart Agreement Funding, $27 million and $72 million respectively will support providers to maintain a robust, safe and accessible child care sector in Alberta. 

In addition to the Early Learning and Child Care Act, the Alberta Government pledged to invest $394 million annually to support a strong child care sector. $280 million was invested in child care subsidy and supports, and investing the remaining $114 million in wage top-ups and professional development funding for early childhood educators.

Our new subsidy model will target subsidies to parents who need them most:

A single mother earning $60,000 a year with a toddler in full-time daycare will see her monthly subsidy increase from $129 to $483 – an annual boost of more than $4,200.

An estimated 16,000 families earning $50,000 will pay an average of $25/day for child care with the new subsidy model instead of around 7,500 families, many with incomes well into six-figures, paying $25/day the former pilot project.

With this funding, we will support low-and-middle-income families with higher child care subsidies, improve program supports for children with complex needs, and provide grants for new spaces in communities with space shortages.

The NDP’s $25/day initiative benefitted select families not tied in any way to income or need – this is not a good or fair use of taxpayer dollars. Unfortunately, under the 2017 pilot, there was no realistic plan to expand this program. 

We support high quality, accessible and affordable care for those who need it most while preserving parent choice in child care options. Access to child care will be an essential part of Alberta’s economic recovery.

Expanding $25/day would be an additional burden of $1 billion or more on Alberta taxpayers. Given our current economic realities, this is not feasible. The previous NDP government’s pilot program subsidized $25/day daycare for some of Alberta’s highest-income earners. 

In total, 28,000 children will receive an increase in child care subsidy under Bill 39, with some paying as little as $13/day.

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